Sunday, April 08, 2007

Books Read

Undine by Penni Russon

Steve happened to see this book on the table moments before I carried it off for my day's commute and work. "Undine? Would that be related to 'ondine'?" he asked. "An ondine is some kind of mythical woman of the sea." When you read enough fantasy, your understanding of the myths becomes richer, deeper, and more filled with details. Most often the fairies under the hill, allergic to iron, uncaring of humans, are the mythical creatures represented in fantasy. I don't believe I'd come across an ondine before.

I didn't know of such a mythical creature, so I was glad for the heads up. When you're aware of the myth underlying the story, rather than give away the plot, it adds layers of implications. For instance, when you recognize the story of the Pied Piper, your mind is not tied up with the plot, but with the undercurrents of the human psyche revealed by this particular telling. The story isn't just about a mysterious stranger that charms rats and takes the town's children. It also invokes the rest of the story, and the details not used are just as telling as the details used. Deviations change and enhance the myth. Some good fantasy writers allow the myth to sneak up on you, and before you know it, you realize you've been led into the pied piper myth.

So before I even started reading, I had the opportunity to find out what I could expect. I learned Undine is an elemental. There are stories based on elemental magic, such as Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series. Ondine is a water nymph in German mythology. She has a siren-like voice and she can become human...and lose her immortality...if she falls in love with a man. There's always a dark side to a myth, and Ondine's curse will cause her unfaithful man to lose his ability to breathe if he falls asleep.

Magic in stories often seems to me to be about external expressions of growing sexual passions, and so does Ondine's myth. Magic fantasy especially displaces the wildness of sexual stirrings into the amoral, sometimes cruel, energies of magic and fairies. This book begins as though it could play either way…either it's real "magic" stirring in the Australian teenager, or it is a girl becoming a woman. Soon though it becomes clear that this is a book about unbridled magical power, when she dreams of three bronze fish, and three bronze fish turn up at her door. Undine becomes interested in an older boy, and the engulfing energies of magic and sexual feelings become linked. I see such books as a way for teen girls to deal with such emotions but making it more about magic. It becomes a way to lasso this primal, sacred and slightly dangerous need.

That said, this book is more of a teen book than a crossover book. Adults who don't normally read fantasy would find it pretty simple and straightforward.

Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer wrote the hit Artemis Fowl series, but he doesn't limit himself to the fantasy genre. I enjoyed the unmagical Benny and Omar, a quick read in which a boy moves with his family from Ireland to Tunisia. In this case, you have the kid's version of a hard-boiled detective. Even in Colfer's fantasy books, mysteries show up as the core of the plot, and I saw shades of Artemis Fowl in this character, Fletcher Moon. Less evil genius and more nerdy sherlock, Fletcher has solved mysteries from the age of three. The thing about super-smart kid characters, they're able to use their age to their advantage when adults don't take them seriously. Fletcher Moon is almost too smug about his ability and good guy status, but as the book progresses, he becomes less the know-it-all detective, and more the smart kid forging friendships and a future as a real detective. Just a side note: I think this is the first book I've read in which the characters used euros, not dollars, not pounds.

Shadows in the Starlight by Elaine Cunningham

Back in the fall I read the first book, Shadows in Darkness in this the Changeling Detective Series. It seems to be losing its sexy promise, and concentrating more on hard-boiled detective intrigue. It's ok, but I'm not chomping at the bit to read the next one. A little more of the elven world is revealed: their lack of care for humans, the changeling detective's care for her human friends, and hints that those bonds could be dangerous for her and the otherworldly folk.

A Gift of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey
Much like the Star Trek TV shows, the Dragonriders of Pern series gives a satisfying drama in space fix. The characters become familiar, the roles of the various guilds, the individual quests to be all they can be, all these satisfy that itch for a happy ending. The good conquers trials and tribulations.. Mostly it's a freak of nature, the wild is that which must be conquered. I read through the whole series until Anne McCaffrey started sharing the writing with her son. By that point it became a craft of plugging in the correct formula for this trial, that reaction, those responses. It became predictable, just like Star Trek. But it was good to revisit that world and meet new characters with their personal trials and quests.

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